Years ago, Marcia and I gathered with a group of friends on New Year’s Eve for dinner and a game of Trivial Pursuit. I enjoyed Trivial Pursuit, but if I won too many games, they’d ignore me and turn to a discussion of current events.

One-year Trivial Pursuit disappeared, altogether, and we switched to making predictions. We called ourselves “prognosticators,” and there was a certain formality to all of it. One of us became the designated “secretary,” and took down a transcript that was stashed away until next year’s conclave, when we’d take it out to verify if any our predictions came true.

The predictions were mostly political. Sometimes we agreed. More often we disagreed and the dissents were well reasoned and powerful. Most years, we were way off the mark, and nothing we predicted ever happened, but it was a fun way to spend New Year’s Eve.

I couldn’t sit through one of those gatherings again. The word, “entropy,” comes to mind. It derives from physics, specifically the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which requires that everything in the universe, eventually, and inevitably, moves from order to disorder — like a melting ice cube.

At 77, 60 years have gone by since I finished high school. Truman was in the White House when I enrolled in first grade. Thirteen Presidents followed him. That’s a long time, and in all those years I’ve never experienced a year like 2021.

The Romans thought their world would last forever — and it did. A thousand years is a pretty good record; long enough to get comfortable and complacent, but then the Vandals, Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths and Huns came along — and a few nasty epidemics. The values and learning of classical culture and civilization retreated in the midst of a new faith and the “barbarians.”

In 476 all of it collapsed. The Roman Empire was no more, and goats grazed on grasses growing amid the ruins of the Roman Capitol. The writer and historian Edward Gibbon called it a decline of “civic virtue.” It’s a metaphor for 2021, and a fate that comes to nature and all civilizations, ours and the Romans.

2021 was a no-good, bad, horrible, awful year. It was cathartic and an opportunity to get rid of all the built-up resentment and blame, but it was self-destructive because none of the anger and the causes of that anger went away. Entropy, once set in motion, makes history rhyme.

One year after Jan. 6, and the destruction and bloodshed of that day, many of us will try to look back and pretend that the insurrection at the Capitol — an insurrection summoned by a defeated president trying to hold on to power — is over, and that it’s time to move on. It presumes after four years of cruelty, corruption and incompetence, the country wants and is ready for, change; except the change has to come from within.

Hold up the mirror and look closely.

“We have found the enemy and he is us.”

It’s “us” who come to local meetings and threaten public officials. It’s “us” who carry guns and brandish them in public to intimidate those who disagree. It’s “us” and a subset of frightened politicians in one of our two major political parties who are working to take away voting rights from citizens who disagree. It’s a contempt for learning, logic, science and reason. It’s an existential drift toward authoritarian solutions to our problems; a hope and a belief that a strong father figure, a “daddy” will come and save us from ourselves.

It’s about rumor and half-truths spread by social media. It’s about fear. It’s about a “system” that isn’t working. It’s the end of civic virtue. We’ve reached a point of irreconcilable differences. Some write that we may be close to civil war. We’ve been there before and over similar issues.

If 2021 repeats, it will end our democratic experiment. If not, the consequences of climate change will finish the job by the end of the century. These are dismal words. It’s why I’ve retreated to history. It’s cowardly, but the past is a given and a much safer place, especially for my generation that knew and lived through better times — and left behind the mess we’re trying to sort through today.

John Diers is a Prior Lake resident who spent 40 years working in the transit industry and is the author of “Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul” and “St. Paul Union Depot.” To submit questions or topics for community columnists, email editor@plamerican.com.

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